After Oklahoma voters decided twenty state questions in 2010 and 2012, including several broad and contentious issues, this November’s ballot may seem anticlimactic. Oklahoma voters will have just three state questions to decide, none of which are especially momentous. Two of these, SQ 770 & SQ 771, involve homestead exemptions for certain military personnel and their families.
In Oklahoma, most homeowners get the first $1,000 of the assessed value of their primary residence, also known as their homestead, exempted from property tax. Some categories of homeowners, including low-income families and seniors, are provided a larger exemption.
In 2004, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved SQ 715. The measure amended the state Constitution (Article X, Section 8E) to fully exempt veterans with a 100 percent permanent disability from paying any property tax on their homestead property. The exemption also applied to the disabled veteran’s surviving spouse.
This year’s state questions, which were placed on the ballot by legislative approval of HB 2621, broaden the scope of the homestead exemption for some military personnel:
- SQ 770 specifies that a disabled veteran or surviving spouse who sells a homestead property can claim an exemption on a newly-purchased property that same year. Currently, the veteran must wait until the following year to claim the exemption on a newly-purchased property;
- SQ 771 extends the full homestead exemption to the surviving spouse of someone who died while in the line of duty, as determined by the United States Department of Defense. The exemption would apply to the surviving spouse until s/he remarries and, if the homestead property is sold, would be transferable to a new property the year it is bought.
The disabled veteran homestead exemption is currently claimed by 19,236 veterans for a total of $21.1 million annually, according to information from House fiscal staff. The House fiscal analysis of HB 2621 estimated that some 480 households may benefit from SQ 770 each year and estimated the fiscal impact at $529,000. Staff was unable to estimate the number of unremarried surviving spouses of military personnel killed in duty who could qualify for the full homestead exemption under SQ 771.
Both constitutional amendments are within the spirit of SQ 715, which entrenched the principle that members of the military who suffered in war, and their families, are entitled to generous property tax breaks. If the past is any guide, Oklahoma voters should have no problem passing both proposals.